3 “Reuben, you are my [a]firstborn; My might, the beginning of my strength and vigor, Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power [that should have been your birthright]. 4 “But unstable and reckless and boiling over like water [in sinful lust], you shall [b]not excel or have the preeminence [of the firstborn], Because you went up to your father’s bed [with Bilhah]; You defiled it—he went up to my couch.
5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers [equally headstrong, deceitful, vindictive, and cruel]; Their swords are weapons of violence and revenge.
Genesis 49:3Reuben was the eldest of Jacob’s twelve sons and therefore entitled to the birthright, which would make him successor to his father as head of the family or tribe, and inheritor of a double portion of his father’s estate. But Reuben forfeited all this by his conduct with Bilhah, his father’s concubine (35:22). By adopting Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and giving each of them a portion of the inheritance, Jacob virtually gave Joseph the extra portion of the land that would have gone to Reuben. Judah became the tribal leader in Reuben’s place (49:8-10).
Genesis 49:4The fertile land once occupied by the tribe of Reuben was deserted by its settled inhabitants and given over to the tribal nomads of the desert. Because of his behavior, Reuben had forfeited his rights as the firstborn even before Jacob’s prophecy.
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